Every reader of The Kentucky Explorer, no doubt, has a special memory. Why not write it down and share it here in this column? Help preserve the story of our vanishing past for today and tomorrow. We need memories and photographs from every part of Kentucky and beyond. Thanks!
My dad, K. F. Hall, of Banner, Kentucky, designed and built a sawboat in 1914, which he used on the Big Sandy River, beginning in the late fall of that year.
Some of the first sawing done on this boat was near Prestonsburg, when he cut lumber to build its first show house for a man named Roscoe Howard. Sawdust was used to cover the floor. Dad gave the sawmill workers and me free tickets to the show.
Dad also cut lumber to build a coal tipple and coal camp houses.
He just moved from place to place along the river. The river bank would be piled high with logs.
Dad had two other flatboats measuring 50 feet by 12 feet; one was propelled by a gasoline engine. He would anchor these boats about 50 feet out in the river.
The sawing was done on the second floor of the big sawboat. It measured 105 feet by 26 feet, was powered by steam, and had side paddles. The boat also featured a four-room house on board, so the workers lived right on the boat. They even kept a cow on board to supply them with milk.
He couldn't operate the boat in the summer, when the water level was low, so the coal company gave him enough work at one location to last all summer long.
One time, my dad was building a bridge across the Big Sandy at Betsy Layne. There was a long cable that stretched all the way across the river. Dad told one of his workers to loosen one end of the cable, but the man cursed him. Dad ordered him to the paddles, picked up the cable, and broke about 200 feet of it. The man never looked back.
One summer, Dad anchored his boat at Big Shoal Branch, doing some work for a wealthy man by the name of Tim Hatcher. He owned a coal tipple, power plant, and mining camp. Mr. Hatcher provided a big basket of food for the workers, who were moving lumber from the skids. He called out to Dad one day to come over and eat with them, that he had something that he'd never eaten before. After asking what it was, Mr. Hatcher told Dad it was "meatskin dumplings."
Dad purchased the rights to the Calen Creek Sinking Logs in 1918. He removed the sawmill and sold the big boat in 1919, but he kept his two flatboats; one which was powered by gasoline. It had a power wench. He put his sawmill back into operation at the top of the river bank, where he used the power wench to pull entire rafts of hardwood logs, one at a time, to the skid. This job took about two years to finish.
I had lots of fun on that sawboat. I remember blowing its steam whistle for all the small children up on the river bank. They always waved as the boat passed by.
The morning was cool and crisp. A brown thrush was busy carrying small bent twigs into a low overhanging branch attached to a tree growing in the fence row. Tiny blue flowers were showing their faces in the grass along the side of the land, leading to the two-story farmhouse, where my grandparents lived. The apple blossoms were snowy white in the orchard. I heard the call of a bobwhite somewhere in the field across from the house. A yellow butterfly darted back and forth in the early April sun. The cry of a large black crow sounded out past the barn near the woods. The harsh "caw, caw" was soon answered by another crow.
Wood-burning smoke rose and drifted up and across the lane, as I stepped up to the backdoor and looked through the screen. I saw my grandma standing by the big, wood-burning cookstove. She was wearing a print dress and an apron made from a feed sack. Feed came in coarse cotton prints, which were saved, washed, and sewn into clothing items. Her hair was done up in a bun. She had just taken a pan of hot, brown, crusted, homemade biscuits from the oven. Sausage patties were frying in a cast iron skillet on top of the stove. Grandma had just placed another stick of dry wood in the firebox. The aroma reached me through the screen, as I stood there watching and wishing I could step inside. Grandpa dipped hot water from the reservoir and poured it into the pan sitting on a little stand and washed his hands. In the middle of the table sat canned preserves (a jar of apple jelly and a jar of peach jam) and a little glass jar filled with spoons. Grandma was lifting fried eggs onto a platter. All this good food had been prepared for breakfast. There were no fast food, sliced and baked, prepackaged, or frozen meals in this country kitchen. Grandpa sat at the end of the wooden table, dressed in overalls, ready to eat the food, hot from the stove, in the warm, cozy kitchen.
After the dishes were washed, the reservoir was filled again, so they could have hot water, and Grandma went into the front room by the fireplace. Grandpa left to go do some plowing, as spring crops needed to be in the ground. I can still see him in the fields, with his old, brown, felt hat, stained by years of sweat; and him, in a long-sleeve shirt and overalls, wet from working in the heat, pushing on to get the field turned for planting. It might be corn or tobacco, whatever, the plowing came before the crop. Up and down each row, furrows of dirt were broken and turned up to be warmed by the sun. His shoes would fill with dirt as he walked behind a steady, plodding mule. Rocks and large clods of dirt often got in the way. He made slow progress.
On hot days a jar of cold well water nestled in the grass under a cedar tree along the fence row. As Grandpa and his mule made a turn, before heading back on their journey across more unplowed ground, Grandpa would stop, remove his hat, wipe his brow, and take a long, deep drink. From sunrise to sunset, each tomorrow meant man and beast would share time together.
Grandma had settled down in a chair and had already begun to cut material for a bow tie quilt she had started. Several blocks of assorted colors, some solid print, were already pieced together with tiny stitches she made. Milk sat on the hearth to be churned later in the day. Being early spring, a small fire glowed in the fireplace. Tiny flames danced and flickered from logs almost burnt to embers.
A rain shower had begun to drizzle, so Grandma hurried out to find a little hen and some baby chicks. When she located them, she placed the babies in her apron and carried them to the henhouse. She then walked out to the garden, lifted a well-worn hoe hanging by the gate, just as the sun peeked through white, fluffy clouds, floating across a blue sky. Several little rows of peas, onions, and cabbage, in a variety of shades of green, marched along in a straight line. On Good Friday, Grandma would plant beans. In her apron pocket, she had placed packets of radish and lettuce seeds, and with her hoe, she scratched up some loose soil and scattered several little black seeds. By the garden fence day lilies were beginning to push through the warm earth. By the end of summer the area would be filled with a patch of bright orange flowers.
As a rooster began to crow, I could hear a statement Grandma had often said, "A whistling woman and a crowing hen would come to no good end." Tomorrow would be wash day. Several buckets of water would be drawn from the well located in the backyard. A bailer on a long rope would be dropped down into the deep hole, and when it reached the water, the bailer would fill. Then, by pulling the rope up, the water would be emptied into the bucket. A large barrel sat at the corner of the house to catch rainwater. This water was used for rinsing clothes and washing hair. It has been said that rainwater makes things soft. There was no electric washers, just large galvanized tubs, plenty of water, and a scrub board. Everything was scrubbed up and down on this board that had ruffed or wavy-like ridges covering the front of it. There was a lot of hot, soapy water, a bar of homemade lye soap, red hands, and a very back-breaking, long day's job.
The two sugar pear trees, located in the corners of the front yard, were covered with blossoms and honey bees. In the fall, as the pears fell, they would be gathered, cooked, and turned into preserves. The two huge maple trees stood guarding the house and provided shade. No electric fan cooled the house. By the side of the house sat an old battered dishpan, filled with beautiful moss roses growing in rich dirt making the old pan a work of art. The dirt had probably been mixed with droppings from the henhouse, helping the flowers put on their best array of color. I'd say moss roses are just about my favorite flower.
A cow or two stood in the barn lot, and as evening shadows began to creep closer in from the woods, Grandma made her way to the old weathered barn, where ears of corn filled a stall to be shelled for the chickens. Grandpa was returning from the fields, where he had plowed all day. Loose dirt clung to his shoes. As darkness became night my grandparents would light a kerosene lamp, crumble leftover cornbread into a glass of milk, and eat their supper. Another day had passed for a farmer and his wife.
Tomorrow, when the sun rose again, another meal would be prepared, the seasons would change, and the chores were not always the same. Seeds waited to be planted, animals would be born, and crops harvested; but at the end of each day a satisfaction was felt. They had peace of mind. The land had provided for them.
I can always step through that door, hug my grandma, make one more trip to the parlor to hear her sing and play "Froggie went a-courtin'," or climb the stairs to look out an upstairs window, sit in the kitchen and taste another helping of delicious blackberry cobbler; perhaps, with a dab of homemade butter on it. It will always be there, as this was a trip taken by memory.
Adine S. Cathey Clark
My closest friends were Frank Liston, who lived two doors away on one side; Leroy Crutcher, who lived two doors away on the other side; and Ray Goodin, who lived across the street. As we grew older and started dating, Frank and I grew close going on double dates. Before that, though, we just played together on equal terms.
Ray seemed to have a fascination for trains. He always talked about the C. and O. trains and the L. and N. freight trains, when one would leave, at what time of day, and so forth. I never understood that, because I didn't care about freight train schedules.
Messing around the trains and grabbing rides was another story. Right at our backyards was a huge freight yard. To us, it was like a playground. Everywhere we traveled we always walked along the railroad tracks and hitched rides, going back and forth.
Ray was two years older. Once, when he was 13, and I was 11, he suggested we take a hobo trip.
"Where?" I asked.
"Well, I have an aunt down in Southern Kentucky near the Tennessee line," he said. "We could go there. There's a freight that leaves here every Tuesday morning and goes right by there."
So we decided to go on this hobo trip, though we never told anyone about our plans. We left one cold December morning about nine o'clock and headed south, the same direction all the hoboes took during the winter. Though this was a couple years before the beginning of the Depression, there were still many people riding the train.
There were no empty cars. They were all full and locked. We rode a low-sided car, open and filled with quarried stone. Brother, it was cold sitting on that cold stone in the howling wind, whizzing along at 50 or 60 miles an hour. One of the men cautioned me about putting my feet down in the cracks between the stones, warning that they might be crushed, if the train got bumped and the load shifted. But I left them there. I was freezing.
Whenever the train stopped, I hopped off and shuffled around, trying to get my blood circulating. Finally, in late afternoon, we pulled into Central City, which was as far as the train was going. We asked around, and someone told us there was a coal train headed in the direction we wanted to go. We climbed into one of the empty cars. The train went about five miles south, stopping at a small mining town.
When we climbed out and looked around, it was dark and snowing. Only a few small buildings and one tiny light were visible. We headed for the light, which turned out to be a bulb hanging under the front porch of a small grocery store. We found two men inside: the owner and a customer.
"Are there any trains going out of here tonight?" we asked.
"No," one of the men shook his head, "and I have no idea when there will be one going out."
Fortunately, the customer was a coal miner, and he invited us to stay at his home. We were very glad for the invitation. Surely the Lord was watching over us. Though his small home wasn't much more than a shack, it was warm and dry. His wife invited us to share their evening meal. We hadn't eaten since breakfast, and that was the best meal I've ever tasted.
That night we slept on a straw mattress, which to this day, is probably the soundest sleep I've ever enjoyed. We awakened early and ate a hearty breakfast of biscuits and eggs, stuffing our pockets with those flaky treats before we left. We thanked our kind friends and headed back along the tracks toward Central City. Before we arrived we decided that since we didn't know where we were going and didn't know how to get there, even if we did, we should head back home.
Spotting a man along the rails, I asked him when the first freight train was leaving for Louisville. Instead of answering he grabbed me and then Ray and marched us off to jail. He was a deputy sheriff.
Once there he questioned us about who we were and where we came from. At noon the high sheriff took us home for dinner. His family treated us royally. So did the people who heard about us and stopped by to "see the little hobos." The sheriff contacted our parents, and they wired money for our passage home. We came home in style, leaving on a cold freight, but coming back on warm seat cushions.
On the ride home someone passed the word that we had run away, been apprehended, and were now being sent home. Someone paid the "candy man" (he hawked candy and treats up and down the aisle) to bring us a pair of huge Babe Ruth bars. This attention was heady stuff for 11 and 13-year-old boys.
We arrived early the next morning. My father and Ray's dad met us at the Union Station at 10th and Broadway. I don't remember them saying a word all the way home. When we arrived, my mother, sister, and brother were sitting in the kitchen around the Warm Morning coal stove. They never said a word either. They had probably discussed the situation and decided the best way to handle me was not to say anything. Later my mother told me how much they had worried about us.
We lived near a cooper shop that made beer barrels. They had a huge storage yard with large stacks of staves seasoning in the outdoor weather. She told me how my dad went all over the huge yard, searching, thinking we might have been buried beneath a fallen stack of lumber. I felt extremely guilty over what I had done and knew I would never do anything like that again.
Over the years, I have thought many times about Ray and me climbing out of that coal car, seeing that faint light in the distance, and then talking to the two men in the store; being invited to spend the night by the kind coal miner. Surely, the coal miner was an angel in disguise. He might not have known that, but I know, now, that he was. Surely the Lord was watching over two little boys that cold, snowy night, many years ago.
Editor's Note: Rodney Lee is a retired building contractor in Louisville, Kentucky. This is an excerpt from his self-published memoirs, "The Good Times, Hard Times, and Other Times," 1995.
Gone, but not forgotten are my fond memories of my grandparents, Bert and Lida Robards, and their homeplace. The old Robards' homeplace was located in Henderson County, Kentucky. I spent many summer months with them. They were the best grandparents I could ever have. I will tell you a little history about this old homeplace.
This old homeplace sat on a 137-acre tract of land located on the Rockhouse Hill Road, about three miles east of Robards, Kentucky; and about one and one-half miles west of the Green River. In 1898, my great-grandfather, James H. Robards (Daddy Jim), moved his wife, Mary Will "Mama Mae;" and their children, Bert (my grandfather), Bessie, and Baker to this home from the Niagara community. It had a long "dog run" open hallway in the middle of the dwelling. After a short time living there, James constructed this frame house around the log cabin and enclosed the hallway. The front door led into the hallway. There he added two more rooms, which was the kitchen and another bedroom, a back porch, and a pantry. He drilled a well that was in the center of the back porch, and it was 80 feet deep. He added fireplaces to each side of the front rooms of the house. This made the house more modernized during the early 1900s. He installed a picket fence in front of the house, which stood up until 1950. The upstairs over the two front rooms consisted of a large attic, where my grandfather, Bert, and his brother, Baker, slept. The stairs to the attic were spiral and very steep.
My father, Henry, and his two younger brothers, Robert and James A., were born in this house. My grandparents, Bert and Lida, came back to this house and farm in 1947, after Bert sold his coal mine near Zion, Kentucky. My Robards' relatives and I will never forget the fond memories we spent at this place with Grandpa and Granny. Granny called the right front porch of the house, "The East Room." She called the little room behind it, "The Goffer Hole." The front of the house had large maple trees, which made the house very cool in the summertime. In 1970, Anaconda Aluminum Corporation bought up this place and farm, along with several other farms, which totaled up to 3,000 acres. This old place is gone now, but our memories will be of it and our grandparents from now on.
Mac H. Robards
I was the first of 12 children born to Hiram and Annie Tackett Anderson on January 6, 1913. It was a snowy night. My parents lived in a two-room house that no one else would live in, because it was supposed to be haunted, and ghosts walked in the bottom and yard at night. My parents rented it, because rent was for repairs, and Dad could do them. The neighbors helped them move, giving them what they could to help the young couple set up house. Dad was 21, and Mother was 15, when they married on December 21, 1911.
One night, as the neighbors left to go home, Mother asked Dad, "Are you scared?" "Of course not," he replied, as he looked at the door. Just as night settled in, Hiram decided he needed to go to the outhouse. He took the water bucket, so he could bring in a bucket of water from the well. He was gone longer than Mom thought he should have been. She was looking out the door, when she saw him coming in a run and laughing. Mom thought that Dad saw something and went crazy. He came in with no water, but she was glad that he was back.
"Did you see it?" she asked. "Is that why your pants are wet?"
"Yes and no. I saw the white thing in the bottom and was afraid to come in and leave it out there. I started toward it, and the ground trembled, then it moved farther away. I kept following it. I would stop when it did. We gazed at each other, and all I could see was a white spot. I stretched out my arms and ran toward the white spot. I got a hold of it, and it bellowed and butted me into a puddle of water. Then, the ground trembled, as a bunch of wild cattle followed the one that I had caught." Mom and Dad laughed hard, because they knew it wasn't a ghost.
My mother never married again after the death of my dad in 1964. She stayed with me after I retired and came home from Chicago. Mom told me stories, and we would sit and laugh and cry.
Later after this incident, my parents moved down Long Fork to Virgie, Kentucky. This is where I grew up. In 1937, my parents and siblings moved to Elkhorn Creek, and there they remained. I now live in the place that they lived in on Lower Pigeon.
Elsie Anderson Hudson
Joe C. Harper was our coach the last three years (1930-32) of my high school days. He came from London, Kentucky, where he had played as a guard on a state high school championship basketball team. He had also gone to Chicago to the National Invitational High School Tournament.
I tried out for the high school basketball team, while I was still in the 7th grade. I made the squad as the 7th member and got to play in two or three games. Our season was 18 to 20 games. We only played on the weekends.
The first group of boys I played with was made up of the following boys: Chester Mitchell, Chalmer Mitchell, Tom Stout, Charlie Baker, and John Campbell.
The next year I got to play at least half of the games. I had added a dribbling skill, which none of the bigger boys could do very well. The game was slow and methodical back then. We relied on our skill to get our opponent off balance. We would shoot baskets closer to the goal. The games were low-scoring affairs. The total score rarely exceeded 20 points.
After Harper came, he encouraged us to shoot outside shots when we were open. Kelly Hoskins was what they called the "shooting guard." I was the point guard. Kelly and I both developed into good outside shooters.
The only year we thought we had a good chance to win the "B" class championship was after we had beaten each of our Perry County opponents soundly. It didn't happen. We ran into a bunch of strangers, who were later labeled the "Carr Creek Wonder Five." They were good. They defeated our team 32-13 in the old HBI gym. HBI stood for Hazard Baptist Institute. It was probably the first high school in Perry County. They had four years of high school and some college courses.
No one had heard of Carr Creek, until they
came to the tournament. They were fantastic players. Shelby Stamper
could play with the best of them today.
The old gym was purchased by the Perry County School Board from the Hazard City School Board after they purchased the property. It was torn down, and the lumber was used to build a gym for the new First Creek High School at Clemons, Kentucky.
When I was about five years old, Dad traded three pigs for a pony for me. I had been riding her with someone leading her for some time before I was allowed to ride her on my own. I vividly remember the day I was allowed to ride her by myself. I was so excited, I could hardly wait to mount her. I felt so big. I was going to ride a horse all by myself.
Dad had saddled and bridled her, brought her inside the yard, and shut the gate before I was allowed to get on her. While Dad was giving me last minute instructions, the dogs which were practically under her feet, began barking for some reason. This startled the pony, and she bolted with me on her back. I was so scared, I didn't even think to try to guide her or stop her. In fact, I didn't even remember how to do either one. All I could think of was that we seemed to be flying along, and if I fell off, I would surely be trampled under those thundering hoofs. I gripped the reins and saddle horn, just as hard as I could, and I prayed for this wild ride to be over. I didn't know how long it would last, nor where we would end up, but anything was better than falling off.
The pony raced to the garden fence and thundered along side it with a very small, very terrified girl on its back. The fence was of woven wire, and it occurred to me that if I could just grab the wire, I could pull myself off and hold myself up long enough, so the pony could get past; and I could drop off the fence, once those terrible hoofs had passed. I kept my death grip on the saddle horn with one hand and leaned over as far as I dared to reach for the fence with the other hand. The wire was just a blur, so I couldn't really see to grab it, which was probably a good thing. I would have surely gotten at least a broken wrist if I had managed to carry my plan out. I finally figured out that it wasn't going to work and just concentrated on hanging on.
When she got to the corner, where the garden fence met the property line fence, she stopped on her own. Dad caught up with us a few moments later and lifted me, scared and shaking, from the saddle. From the way his voice sounded when he asked if I was okay, I think he was as scared as I was. As soon as I could walk, I made a beeline to the house to tell Mom what had happened, so she could sympathize with me and comfort me. I found her in the bedroom, sorting clothes, and I told her what had happened. Instead of making over me, as I had expected her to, she calmly went on sorting clothes as though a horse running away with her youngest daughter was an every day occurrence. I remember wondering how she could act like that when I had just had a narrow escape from death. I was a grown woman, with children of my own, before I realized that Mom had seen everything and was acting as she did to keep from going to pieces herself.
Her name was Queen Victoria Green; a tiny wisp of a woman, obviously born in the mid-19th century, when all the world knew the name of the dowager head of the British Isles. My Queen served, rather than ruled, a very small realm in the wooded hills of Eastern Kentucky.
Grandma Queenie was what we numerous grandchildren called her, the motley offspring of her 11 sons and daughters. Grandpa bore an equally famous name, Daniel Boone Green, as did many other young Kentuckians of that era.
Each summer, my mother would take my two sisters and me on a pilgrimage, an adventure-filled trip, "back home" for a week or more of visiting. A little work train, which included a single passenger coach, carried us from the old river town of Catlettsburg, up the winding, willow-lined Big Sandy River, and on to Dawkins, where the line terminated amid stacks of hand-hewn ties purchased by the railroad from horny-handed backwoodsmen.
We always knew our destination was near when the creaking cars and chuffing locomotive crawled across the rickety trestle over the deep ravine that cradled the white waters of Jenny's Creek. Made of hand-hewn timbers cut from the nearby mountainsides, the trestle spanned an area known as "the Narrows;" locals pronounced it "Nars."
From Dawkins, we traveled to our final destination, at least five miles, by mule-drawn jolt wagon, over roads that didn't deserve the name. Semi-graded by pick and shovel, often following the rocky bed of creeks, this was no four-lane freeway. Often a corduroy of poles, cut from nearby hillsides, were laid over deep, muddy areas, where even the hardy mules found treacherous footing. But I digress.
Arrival at the Green homestead was an occasion, of course. Grandma Queen would appear at the front door of her cabin home, a diminutive figure in an ankle-length calico dress, over which there would be a generous apron tied snugly around her tiny waist. A sunbonnet shaded her sharp, but smiling features. A corncob pipe was a fixture in the corner of her mouth. Of course, since it was mid-summer, she was barefoot.
Grandpa Dan, seated in a creaking, old, split-hickory rocking chair in the shade of a nearby apple tree, seldom bothered to get up. He greeted our arrival with a genial wave and a generous smile on his round, unwrinkled face. Daniel Boone Green didn't believe in wasting energy.
The same could not be said for Grandma. She was the home gardener, chief cook and bottle washer, maker of great quantities of soft lye soap, and carder and weaver of wool for clothes and blankets. In late summer, long strands of string beans hung drying in her little kitchen. Pared and sliced apples were dried on a nearby shed roof. Apples and turnips, as well as potatoes, were stored in a buried pit at the garden edge and covered with a mound of straw for easy access in mid-winter.
As with all rural mountain families, chickens were a necessity. A motley mixed flock of black Leghorns, speckled Domineckers and Rhode Island Reds wandered about the yard and nearby pasture finding their own food sources, keeping an eye out for hawks, and building nests and hatching their young in the old log barn.
Grandma's laundering system was "state of the art." I remember watching the entire procedure one bright, summer day. She loaded an old split-hickory basket with the week's dirty clothes, cut out a chunk of lye soap from the kettle in which it had been made, and down over the hill we went to the creek, following a winding path that led to a crystal-clear pool, where schools of minnows and crawdads caught my eye.
Several years earlier, one of the men of the family had used an old one-man crosscut saw to cut down a large willow tree by the water. The flattop stump was a ready-made table for the laundry task.
Dipping each garment or sheet, each weathered towel or apron into the creek, she then spread them onto the stump, rubbed in a generous supply of soap, and proceeded to beat the sodden mound vigorously with a flat handmade hickory paddle. Turning the clothing from time to time, while continuing to flail away with her paddle, she made sure that not a speck of dirt was overlooked. The individual pieces were dipped into the clear creek waters for "rinsing," and were then draped over the nearby willows to dry in the midday sun.
Grandma probably learned this ritual family chore from her own mother, for even today women in remote reaches of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, and on remote islands of Indonesia, find nearby streams convenient locations for bathing, laundering, and scrubbing their battered cooking utensils. In my own wanderings, I have watched whole families (men excluded) engaged in such activities in the Yucatan of Mexico, in little Belize, and in eastern Africa. Check out the pages of old tattered National Geographics for other examples.
But back to Grandma Queenie. I enjoy recalling one other humorous incident. Among the little flock of chickens that was ever-present around the house was a trim, little, black Leghorn hen, who found the open unscreened window to the family bedroom quite inviting. Each day when properly motivated by natural processes, she flew into the window, settled down on the bed, laid her fresh brown egg, and then hopped back onto the window sill. With loud and protracted cackling, she announced her accomplishment to the world before returning to the other yard chickens. Calmly, Grandma would retrieve the egg and store it in the kitchen for whatever traditional recipe might call for it in a day or two.
O. E. Anderson
Going to a Ball family homecoming this past September, I became aware of the new wildlife refuge, Yellowbank, located on 6,000 acres running both north and south of Yellowbank Creek; between Ammons, Kentucky, and the Meade County line, west of Branden-burg. This is comprised of a series of flat, river bottom farmlands and woodlots, sloping up into hardwood forests, containing deer, several species of small game animals; with doves, quail, wild turkeys, and many types of waterfowl frequenting the riparian environs of the Ohio River. Good fishing can be found in both the creek and the river, with a boat ramp and some primitive camping sites nearby. There are now several miles of maintained roads throughout the area, along with the older unimproved roads, which were all I knew when I was spending time there, both before and after World War II.
In this period I had four uncles all living on farms located on or next to the land this refuge now encompasses. Uncle "Shack" (Shacklette) lived about a quarter mile around the hollow from the one-lane, steel girder bridge that spanned Yellowbank Creek. At this time, and for many years yet to pass, this was the only road that ran anywhere close to the river as it linked Mooleyville and Chenault with the Ammons bottoms. Uncle Earl lived on the Shellman farm at Ammons before buying and moving to a riverside farm just north and east of Chenault. Uncle Edison bought the land and buildings at the Chenault landing in the 1950s (riverboats used this site to load and unload freight and passengers around the turn of the century), and there was a store and post office located here for many years. The road from Chenault was one of the roughest I can remember. I often wondered, when driving to Ammons, how even road wagons, hauling freight to or from the steamboats, were able to negotiate its narrow limestone-strewn surface without breaking wheels. After coming up off the river plain and veering south, it was a series of rock ledges and drop-offs that continually tested a motorist's skill. The entire way has since been paved, and aside from about a half mile of gravel road leading over to my cousin's river farm, where we hold our reunion each fall, you can now go from Mooleyville to Ammons in 15 minutes.
I guess what I remember most about this area are the Native American artifacts that seemed to be everywhere when I visited there during my teenage years. The south bank of Yellowbank Creek, where it joined the Ohio River, was just a few hundred yards up-river from Uncle Earl's place; and being 40 to 50 feet higher than the river, had been a gathering place for Indians, Shawnees, most likely, over many years prior to the white man's arrival. This was a natural overlook; and from the widespread distribution of pieces of chert, along with hundreds of both finished and unfinished arrowheads and bird points, I reached the conclusion that this was a place where they had spent extended periods of time replenishing their hunting equipment.
The land between the bluff and farm, used primarily for corn and tobacco over the years, was also an excellent location for more arrowheads, scrapers, and tomahawk heads. When the ground was plowed in the spring, we would wait for the first rain, then walk the earth that had been turned and watch for pieces that the falling water had uncovered. Uncle Shack, before his death a few years ago, was an avid collector of these Indian relics. By the time I married and left home in 1940, I had several cigar boxes filled with nearly perfect specimens, but found upon returning from World War II, they had been misplaced; and I never saw them again.
Yellowbank Creek was a wonderful bass stream back in those days. From the riffle between the old iron bridge and the river the creek wound for several miles back into the heavily wooded hills and averaged about six feet in depth. I haven't seen it in 40 years, but I fished it many times, taking several nice smallmouth from its dark green depths, along with crappie and bluegill.
Camping on the Indian bluff one summer night, along with my wife, my best friend, and his wife, we put several throw lines out near the river's mouth before going to bed. Rising before dawn, Carl and I cast the banks of the creek, taking a few bass, before coming back and pulling in the hand lines. Expecting to catch some of the large catfish that cruised the shores of the Ohio, imagine our surprise when we found three very large alligator snapping turtles on three of the hooks we had baited with some small bluegills.
I have heard that turtle have seven different kinds of meat under that rough exterior, so I asked the wives if they would cook one, if Carl and I did the cleaning. Willing to go along with most of our harebrained ideas, they agreed, and we set to work. This was our first, and absolutely last, attempt to ever clean a turtle. With no knowledge that this could only be done in an exact manner, we cut into some part of what must have been his waste repository and the stench that arose not only immediately dismissed all thoughts of eating anything that odious, but caused us to have to break camp and move farther out on the bluff.
Directly under the iron-girder bridge was a long pool of water that during the summer maintained a depth of from three to six feet. This was a wonderful place to swim and splash on hot days, and I have used it as a cooling-off spot after a morning of hunting squirrels in the immense beech and hickory trees that lined the creek's grassy banks.
Spending a weekend with Uncle Shack led to my first "snipe" hunt. After a late meal, conversation was slyly steered onto the subject and when another uncle and two cousins, also visiting, found I was curious, I was told it was a perfect night for this pastime. Getting a burlap bag apiece, flashlights, and a couple of coal oil lanterns, we were led down along the creek by my uncle and each assigned a brushy spot where I, and I just assumed everyone else, was told to prop open the mouth of the bag, then sit perfectly still. The lantern was to be moved slowly back and forth to lure the snipe inside.
An hour or more elapsed, without seeing hide nor feather of what had been described to me as a snipe, when reality finally dawned. Without my spotting the faint flicker of the coal oil lamp that provided the house's illumination, I might have wandered that moonless creek bottom the rest of the night. Being somewhere near 13 or 14 years old at the time, I was pretty riled up when I walked in and everyone began laughing. But, not being big enough to do any damage, I gave in to the general mood and ended up laughing just as loudly. It was a couple of years later before I came to believe that there actually was a bird called a snipe.
The area south of Yellowbank, extending from the Ammons bottoms, almost to Union Star, three miles distant, was one of the finest places for rabbit and quail I ever hunted. My grandparents on my mother's side and several of her 11 brothers and sisters and their families lived on farms nearby. In the late 1930s and early 1940s we had to travel a final 12 miles of dirt road to reach these places, and only after the 1960s, when a blacktop road was finally finished, would you be likely to find anyone else hunting here. Yellowbank, which I now understand has a growing deer population, will prove to be a wonderful wildlife refuge.
Jos. H. Morton
There are many things I'd like to do in this life, and one is to leave a legacy of fond memories for my grandchildren; memories that will last, as mine have, of our mamaw Miracle. We spent our earliest years living next door to our paternal grandparents, William Thomas Miracle and Cordia Belle Fuson Miracle. When we got something new or had some happening in our lives, we couldn't wait to share it with Mamaw. Even now that I am a grandmother, I often experience things I'd like to share with her.
Mamaw loved to play Chinese checkers. She loved to win, and win she did, by "hook or crook," and mostly "crook." Jigsaw puzzles were favored as well, and often on a table to be worked and re-worked by everyone who came and went. Best of all was the time spent with our grandmother. She was devoted to us, and she seemed to enjoy our company; well, most of the time. I'm sure there were days when she wished we had stayed home.
About the only thing I remember her chiding us about was picking her flowers. They were such a temptation; the cosmo, zenias, marigolds, flocks, bleeding hearts, and snowballs. The colors of the rainbow reached out to us. The honeybees and multicolored butterflies paid homage to each and every blossom, filling their tummies with sweet nectar in the bright sunshine.
Mamaw was a private person and seemed to show little interest in anyone other than her own kith and kin. Her grandkids (all 28 of them) were the light of her life. When Papaw made trips to the doctors at the Veterans Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, she would ask us to spend the nights with her to keep her company. There were times of great excitement. Once a big, rabid dog attacked our family pets on the front porch. Actually, it made the rounds of the whole area before it was finally captured. Drunks on horseback once came to call, but before the sheriff arrived, escaped via a lane that led over the hill into the mountains.
The front porch was a great gathering place for all of us, whether we were pin curling Mamaw's fine-textured hair or watching the cars speed up and down the North Belt Line. We had a fantastic view of the Cumberland Gap and surrounding mountains. There were nights when we would watch forest fires burning high in the Cumberland Mountains. Even dark, stormy nights with lightening flashing and thunder rolling through the mountains didn't scare or deter us from our front porch vigil.
Seasonally, floods came and went. The Middlesboro Flood Control (the big creek) was located just across the road (levee) and field, within sight of our mamaw's house. When the Big Creek was at flood stage, it would rise to cover the fields along the creek bank, areas from which our grandfather cut hay.
Mamaw, like most women of her generation, always prepared big delicious meals at least two times a day. We always thought her Jello/fruit salad a bit unusual. She would not add the called for amount of water, and consequently, she always had "gritty" Jello, which we learned to like. On Sundays family often gathered at her table for a meal. Preparing the meals was not always easy for her. She suffered from arthritis, which sometimes affected her walking, then she would drag a chair along as a crutch.
Christmas at Mamaw's was a big affair, and her Christmas tree was the loveliest in the world, with bubbling lights and old-fashioned ornaments. She always managed to get a gift for each of her grandchildren. There was always a huge candy stick on her cabinet that we chipped with a hammer and enjoyed eating for weeks.
Mamaw dressed stylishly, including a hat and fine jewelry, when she was going shopping. Occasionally she made trips to the horse races in Lexington, Kentucky, and once in awhile to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for the medicinal hot baths.
It was a treat to get a look into Mamaw's mysterious cedar chest. Her youngest son had constructed it in high school, and she kept it filled with all sorts of interesting things: Christmas gifts she had received and was saving for some special occasion, beautiful bed linens that she was storing for whatever reason, as well as chocolate covered cherries and other sweet surprises.
Mamaw created all sorts of little jobs for me. Cleaning the sidewalk after the chickens had paid a visit was definitely one of the more unpleasant tasks. Gathering eggs meant that you got to scare the hens half to death, and in their panic you stood the chance that one would fly in your face; mites were always a hazard. Pinning laundry to the outside line had to be done exactly her way, matching each article. She was a meticulous laundress, and she had a big steel, square washing machine that always fascinated me. It was hard to say who put out the prettiest wash, Mamaw or our mother. Clothes from the dryer are not nearly as aromatic as those collected from the outside clothesline. Mamaw's beds always smelled of starch and sunshine!
Mamaw would get in a snit with our papaw on occasion. We always knew when he was out of favor, because she would go about her work singing this song "Corina, Corina, Where'd You Stay Last Night" and ignoring everything and everyone. We generally steered clear of her at those times.
In later years, we made periodic weekend trips home from Ohio to Middlesboro. Whatever time we arrived, Mamaw welcomed us, and her first thought, always, was to try and feed us.
Mamaw died in 1960, at the age of 79, after a sudden illness. Though I still miss her, I do cherish the legacy of fond memories of my grandmother, who was "never too busy for her grandchildren."
Allene Miracle Sloan
I was the eighth child of a family of 12 and was born in 1922. My parents were Lewis Carter and Bertha Bozarth Carter. They reared their children, mostly in the Concord community of Grayson County, Kentucky. At one time the post office was Felt, Kentucky, and later Route 1, Falls of Rough, Kentucky. We were not the only large Carter family. My grandparents had 13 children, my great-grandparents had ten children, and my great-great-grandparents had 12 children. It is my understanding that the latter, John E. Carter, came from Virginia with some brothers.
In the winter there were many activities. Other than the regular chores, my mother and sisters would piece quilts and quilt them. When the girls left home, they got all the quilts they pieced; and when the boys left home, they got six quilts each. Also, each child got a feather bed, six hens, and a horse or money. It was the boys' job to gin the cotton, using a gin made by my brother, Fred, and me. Then mother or one of the older girls would card the cotton into bats to be used for the filling in the quilts. Also, Mother had a loom on which carpets were woven.
Beans were shelled and hogs were killed. I still don't understand why it had to be so cold at hog killing time. My father would plan to kill enough hogs to have enough lard for a year. The cracklings were used to make lye soap.
There was a time for neighborhood activities. One family in the community would invite everyone in the community to a pound supper. Each was to bring a pound of candy or other sweets. The ladies and girls' names would be drawn by the men and boys to determine who the men and boys would eat with. The host would get to keep the leftovers. After a good time was had by all, the kerosene lanterns were lit, and the guests would depart down muddy or frozen roads and across the fields.
Each winter there was a pie supper at the one-room school. This was used to pay for something that the school needed. The girls would bring the pies. They would stand behind a curtain with a lamp held behind them casting a shadow on the curtain. The girl's pie would be auctioned, and the boy who bought it would get to eat it with the girl, often hoping to walk her home. Twenty-five cents was a fair price, depending on the girl's popularity.
Christmas was an exciting time. At school we started early preparing a Christmas program for the parents. The boys would cut the Christmas tree, and it would be the only one in the community. The girls would string the popcorn and cut out paper things for decoration. Names would be drawn for the exchanging of gifts. We would usually only get off one day for Christmas.
We had seven months of school. Some would walk as far as two miles to school. My family walked a little over a mile. In the winter the boys would go by their traps, dead falls, and snares.
Some of the games played at school were "Dare Base," "Town Ball," "Mad Dog," and "Fox and Geese." Of course, the boys might smoke rabbit tobacco, sometimes called life everlasting. They also might smoke grapevines or cornsilks. What a treat!
We hadn't heard about trick or treating for Halloween. All we had heard about were tricks. They might take many forms: a wagon in the pond, a wagon bed upside down, back and front wheels reversed, parts hidden, and gates wired together. Nothing was ever destroyed. One Halloween, knowing something would happen, I went to the barn the next morning to milk and feed. I saw one set of harnesses gone. I looked and looked, and after giving up, went out to the barn lot to get my cow for milking. She was all harnessed up! One could usually guess who did it.
In the winter there was time to loaf at the country store; and to listen to tales over and over again, play checkers, and lie a little. The stove sat in a box of ashes so men could have a place to spit. There was wood to be cut for heating and cooking. Some would cut enough in the fall, while others would cut wood as needed. We didn't get electricity until the late 1940s.
In the spring it was time to start plowing and planting. One of the first things to be planted were potatoes. Hopefully, we could pull off barefooted at that time. I can remember going to get the milk cow in the morning, when frost was still on the ground, and standing where the cow had slept to warm my bare feet. Bare feet were acceptable in church and school.
Besides the garden, we tilled corn, wheat, oats, and many other things. Late spring was wheat cutting time. My father would ride the binder, and another would drive the four-horse team. The binder would tie the wheat in bundles. It was the others job to shock the bundles in about 12 bundles and two for cap. Shortly, thereafter, it was wheat threshing time. A thresher would come into the community and set up on each farm. The neighbors would work together to haul the wheat by wagons to the thresher. The grain would be sacked, and the ladies would fix the dinner.
Later we would take our wheat to Green Brothers Mill at Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Some would be put on a deposit for flour for the coming year, and the rest would be sold. I understand all the cost for deposit was the bran off the grain.
Late summer and early fall were corn cutting and gathering time. When we cut corn, we would cut stalks near the ground and put in shocks. Often a shedder would be brought in the community. Again, neighbors would help haul the shocks to the shedder. The fodder would be cut up and blown in the barn loft, and the ears were put into the wagon to be taken to the corn crib. Again, the ladies would have a big meal.
In summer and early fall the women would be busy canning and storing fruit and vegetables in the cellars. Sometimes potatoes would be buried. One custom that was often carried out was a chicanery for newly-married couples. My oldest brother, Herbert, got married and, as was often the custom, the new bride would be brought to the groom's parents home the first night. Herbert brought his bride back in a buggy after dark. I was at the barn to take care of the horse and buggy. People were hiding in the barn and around buildings waiting for the bride and groom to go to bed. They would then run around the house ringing bells, beating pans, and howling at the top of their voices. This continued until the couple came out. Someone had taken one of mother's cherished turkey bells and strapped it to the bottom bedspring. Herbert cut it off, and that didn't set well with Mother. Another couple had gotten married that day, so we went across the fields about a mile to chicanery them. It was November, and I went barefooted.
In our community there were a Methodist church and a Baptist church. We were Baptists and would travel three miles one way to church in a road wagon. The older children rode horseback. I can recall when my father came home with three green spring seats for the wagon. We were excited.
The old community is no longer the same. The old one-room schoolhouse is gone, and one of the church houses stands idle. The old country store is empty. Only three of the former pupils live in the area now next to my last former teachers passed away this year.
Elmer Ray Carter
A few weeks ago, I went back home to Chaplin, Nelson County, Kentucky. When I say, "home," I don't mean where I grew up. On the contrary, I only visited there during my childhood, and I never plan on living there. In fact, I only have a few close relatives who still live in the area. However, the feeling of home pervades the entire town.
Driving there with my dad, I always get a feeling of excitement, as we turn off the interstate. As we drive through Taylorsville and over the dam, the excitement grows. I strain my eyes to see Uncle Harold's house when we go over the rolling hills. His dogs start barking before we even turn into his gravel driveway. Cats lazily drift out from under cars to see what's going on, and Uncle Harold's big smile and open arms welcome us home!
I suppose one could say that Uncle Harold's house is the center of our family. It's where picnics, garage sales, and general get-togethers are held. Uncle Harold and Aunt Martha both have a gift of hospitality, and their house is always open to pop-in visitors, and their kitchen is always filled with smells of delicious home-cooked meals. As we walked in this time, Aunt Martha and her daughter, Jere, were in the process of baking chocolate chip cookies, so we got some finger-licking, good samples of that! When I used to come in the summer or on weekends, I always remember the table full of food and friends, especially on Sundays after church.
Uncle Harold's house is full of good memories. Their dining room was usually shut off from the rest of the house, making it cold in the winter and hot in the summer. However, I still had to practice on their ancient upright piano. The trailer deteriorating in their backyard was the first home for my mom and dad after they were married. The swing set that Uncle Harold bought for his daughter, Halona, and me sits motionless, waiting for us to return to play. His barn held the most interesting things, including baby kittens. The tractor used to be as fun as a ride at a theme park to me. Then, there was the front porch. My favorite time was sitting on the porch swing with Uncle Harold, watching lightening during thunderstorms. I was scared, but he held me tightly and pointed out the beauty and majesty of each lightening bolt. Their house was a place of fun and laughter, where everyone could come, throw off the restraints of city life, and enjoy each other!
Uncle Harold is one of my top three favorite people in the world to be around. He's full of fun, hugs, and love. He always made me feel useful. Once, when he stepped on a rusty nail and couldn't get around too well, I came and stayed with him. He said it was so I could help him and Aunt Martha, but I knew the real reason was that Mom and Dad wanted to go on their second honeymoon. Aunt Martha always made me feel special, too. She was a schoolteacher, so when I came to visit, she would take me to school with her and show me off to the kids. She took me to the "library on wheels" that came during the summer, and she let me eat as many mulberries as I wanted from a tree outside her schoolroom. I always thought she was so much fun, because she used to pretend we were in England and drove on the wrong side of the road on those country roads. Of course, she could see that no one was coming, but I was always a little scared, which made it more fun. Since they didn't have any children until I was about ten years old, I was their baby, and I felt like I belonged to them just as much as to my real parents.
A visit to Chaplin was never complete without a trip to church. Usually, I visited in the summertime, while they were having Vacation Bible School, so I got to go twice; once at home and once there! Uncle Harold drove the church van on Sundays to pick up various people around the area. I always got dressed in a hurry, so I could go with him down those long, windy roads. I loved their church. It seemed like everyone there was somehow related to us, but no one seemed to know exactly how. It also seemed like they had a social every time I was there. Everyone brought food and had a good time.
One Sunday evening, when I was 15, instead of going to church training, Dad decided to teach me how to drive on the road that he learned how to drive. It wasn't legal for me to drive until I was 16, but Dad learned when he was 15, so I would, too. His car was a standard Datsun 310.
After a few bumpy starts, we were off. Every time we went to visit, we would spend that hour on Sunday evening driving down that road. We always stopped at an old covered bridge. Being a "city kid," I'd never seen one before, so it was a novelty for me. We'd walk through it and just enjoy the idyllic surroundings. I learned during our recent trip that this covered bridge is one of the few left in Kentucky. Along that same road, there was another covered bridge that used to be one of the longest, but it has long since burnt down.
Our visits always consisted of visiting the great aunts and uncles. To me, they seemed so old. Their houses smelled funny. They didn't get around too well, but I could always climb in their lap and get a big hug, and then go find a cat to play with or something. Looking back, I can connect each great-aunt and uncle with something. Aunt Helen, my grandfather's twin sister, made banana croquettes, my absolute favorite! She always had some ready for me when I came to visit. Aunt Mary was the one with the green hair, who lived to be 92. Her husband, Uncle Omer, took me fishing once, the only fishing trip in my memory. Aunt Bertha was a retired schoolteacher, who seemed kind of gruff to me as a child, but always had a smile. She had lots of whatnots in her house that I liked to look at. Besides that, she made the best meatloaf ever! (For a child to remember that, you know it had to be good!) Aunt Alma was the funniest aunt. She had stories to tell galore. My dad always said that if you went to cheer her up when she was in the hospital, she'd cheer you up instead. Uncle Charlie was the funniest uncle. I remember one time when Dad gave him a pair of his old binoculars, and he was so amazed that he could see all the way to Springfield. All of these great aunts and uncles have died, except Uncle Charlie.
My favorite time of the year in Chaplin was Memorial Day. The worst part about it was my allergies. Since they didn't have air conditioning, my allergies always chose that weekend to make me miserable. Overshadowing my discomfort, however, was the picnic that Uncle Harold and Aunt Martha had. All the great aunts and uncles came, as well as my dad's brother, Jim, and sister, Frances; and most, if not all, the cousins. We'd eat, sit around on the porch, and play with the cats. But the best part was when Uncle Harold and Dad went to Highview Cemetery. No one else was interested in going, but wherever Uncle Harold and Dad were, I wanted to be, so I went. They put flowers on the graves of their relatives and cleaned off the footstones of their parents and grandparents. While they were doing this, they would tell stories about the family members and laugh about different things that occurred. My box of tissues and I truly enjoyed it! Ahchoo!
Before my recent trip home, I had been working on our genealogy. Though it wasn't Memorial Day, Uncle Harold, Dad, and I went looking for relatives in different cemeteries. We have an overabundance of relatives in New Liberty Christian Church Cemetery; and several at Highview, Chaplin Fork, and others places. One of our family "historians" is Marilyn, the daughter of my Great-Aunt Bertha. I remember Aunt Bertha had been good at telling stories, so I was excited about going to see Marilyn, while we were home. I had a genealogical field day with her scrapbooks and pictures of relatives and the Chaplin area!
On the way back to Uncle Harold's house, we stopped for me to take pictures of the churches that Dad's family attended and Dad's granddaddy's house. Across the street stood the tiny building that served as the Chaplin gas station, which his granddaddy had owned also. When he was about three, Dad had a picture taken of him standing in front of the gas station drinking a Coke, so we took the same picture of him as an adult, drinking a Mountain Dew, his favorite.
This past trip to Chaplin, I will always cherish. It was one of the few times I'd been there as an adult, and beautiful memories flooded my mind the whole time. I will always think of it as my hometown and see it through the eyes of a child.